At first glance, the modern industrial warehouse doesn't look like an obvious candidate for so-called "green" building techniques. Typical distribution facilities are huge in scale, often covering 750,000 square feet or more. They tend to be located near interstate highways, generate a lot of truck traffic, and follow a fairly prosaic "big box" design.
But the fact is that sustainability is fast becoming a key issue in the industrial development business. Global warming has emerged as a top priority for government regulators, who exert significant control over the pace and scale of development projects around the world. Builders are facing an era of more stringent standards in which they will be much more accountable for the environmental impacts of their projects.
For instance, the United Kingdom is implementing new, pro-environment building regulations that stem from the government's signature of the Kyoto treaty on global climate change. Other European Union countries will enact their own versions of that legislation in the future. And in North America and Asia, regulatory emphasis on sustainable development is expected to increase dramatically in the coming years.
Warehouse customers are another driving force behind the sustainability movement in commercial real estate. Executives concerned about corporate social responsibility - and about the public image of the companies they run - are requiring that environmental design be incorporated into their business facilities.
A Variety of Alternatives
The good news is that there is already an array of techniques and technologies available today to industrial developers seeking to mitigate the impact of their buildings on the environment. Here are just a few examples:
• Construction materials: Using recycled concrete, steel, asphalt, and other materials in new warehouse construction delivers significant environmental benefits, as does providing construction waste to recycling companies. Developers can also endeavor to use materials that are produced or manufactured locally.
• Daylighting: Installing skylights and clerestory windows in distribution facilities allows companies to use natural light as a source of interior illumination. Daylighting harnesses the power of the sun, lowers electricity usage and carbon dioxide emissions, and improves indoor environmental quality for warehouse personnel.
• Lighting systems: Occupiers can reduce a facility's overall energy consumption by installing energy-efficient lighting systems. Warehouses traditionally use metal halide lighting, but commercially available T5 and T8 fluorescent lights last longer and significantly reduce electricity usage, albeit for a higher front-end investment.
• Water systems: Most of the water consumed at industrial parks is used to maintain outdoor landscaping. Developers and property managers can significantly reduce water usage with plants and landscaping materials that minimize water waste, and by utilizing "gray water" systems where available.
• High-reflectance roof membranes: Traditionally, warehouses have been built with EPDM rubber roofing membranes, which are black and absorb heat and sunlight. But white thermoplastic polyolefin (TPO) roofing offers the same performance at essentially the same cost, with the added benefit of reducing a building's load on its cooling system.
• Brownfield redevelopment: Land parcels with soil contamination or other environmental problems can serve as excellent industrial distribution locations. Developing such sites requires specialized experience and expertise, as well as strong partnerships with government agencies that oversee cleanup. But brownfield projects can also create real economic value as well as enduring environmental benefits.